Photographic histories

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While visiting my mom a couple of years ago, I found a box of old family photos. They were yellowed with age and cracked around the edges. Even my mother had trouble identifying many of the people in the photos. Our sense of family history was disappearing.

I put the task of scanning all of these old photos to my Mac on my to-do list. Two years later, it’s still there. The fact is, I’ve been overwhelmed by the size of the task. And I’m not just talking about the scanning, though that is certainly a monumental project on its own.

What I find even more daunting, though, is adding the personal information that will give these photos a sense of history and put them into context. I don’t just want to preserve the photos—I want to create something that I can share with others in my family to help tell the story of who we are.

While watching a demonstration of GroupSmarts’ MemoryMiner software ($60) at the Macworld Expo Wednesday, I suddenly felt a glimmer of hope.

The concept behind MemoryMiner is a little hard to explain without seeing it in action (you can watch a helpful video demonstration on the company’s Web site ). The basic idea is to use your digital photographs to begin building relationships between the people in your photos, the places the photos were taken, and when the photos were taken. The program makes it easy to add this info by simply dragging and dropping details onto a photo. It then uses this information to explore commonalities.

For example, if you know that your grandmother was in New York in the late 1930s, you can also see who else was in town at the time, and then follow their photographic history. You can also add other types of files, such as PDFs of scanned letters. If you tell MemoryMiner when someone was born, it will use the date listed for each photo to calculate the ages of the people in the photo. This lets you quickly see photos from when your grandmother was a child. All of this information (or just a part of it) can then be exported as an interactive Web presentation for others to explore as they’d like.

As with any program like this, Memory Miner requires a certain investment of your time. But from what I see, your work pays off big time. If you’re interested in family histories or want to explore your photos in a new way, I suggest checking it out. You can download a trial version of the software and try it free for 15 days. According to the site, you can purchase the software for just $45 if you buy before January 31.

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